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Could Kombucha Kill You? The 1995 Kombucha Death and What it Means for us Today

kombucha at store

With kombucha becoming more and more popular every day, many people not familiar with the drink worry about it’s health risks, and some even wonder whether or not it could kill them.

Although their are some risks associated with drinking improperly brewed kombucha, especially for anyone with an immune disease and young children, the fermented tea drink has never actually killed anyone. The risks associated with drinking kombucha are much greater for home brews because of their lack of regulation, but when made properly, the health benefits of kombucha far outweigh the risks.

If you currently aren't drinking kombucha because you’re worried that the drink could seriously hurt you or those you love, this article will seek to clear up the confusion about the dangers of the drink, and whether or not it could kill you.

Has Anyone Ever Died from Kombucha?

Most people who ask me about whether or not kombucha could kill them got the idea that the drink could be lethal from a few popular articles online that talk about a specific case from 1995. A woman who drank 4oz of home brewed kombucha a day got severe acidosis and died of cardiac arrest two days later.

This lady also had a friend who was drinking a similar amount of kombucha and had actually made her kombucha with a SCOBY that was from the same mother. This woman entered the hospital with similar acidosis symptoms and went into cardiac arrest, but she fortunately recovered.

You can see the CDC case report of the incidents here, if you’d like more details about what happened.

So do these cases show that kombucha is a deadly drink that has killed at least one person, almost killed another, and shouldn’t be drunk by anyone who cares about their health?

Not exactly.

Although this incident appears to make the case that kombucha can and has killed, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

First off, the only decent evidence we have of kombucha possibly causing a death is this case of the two women, from over 25 years ago. In the scientific community, you can’t prove that a food or drink is dangerous by pointing to one event that happened a long time ago, where the drink wasn’t even proven to be the cause of death.

It’s just not strong enough evidence to make a conclusion about kombucha based on this one case. Sure it’s possible that the kombucha was contaminated with something and that was the source of these women’s cardiac arrest, but considering that millions of bottles of kombucha have been safely drunk over the course of 25 years since this incidence, I don’t think it’s reasonable to use this case as an example that kombucha is a deadly drink.

Secondly, these two women were home brewing their kombucha. Meaning that they were making it from scratch themselves rather than buying it from the store. Now while home brewing kombucha does have a lot of advantages (I do it myself) there’s no doubt that homemade kombucha is at a much greater risk for dangerous contamination and mold growth than store bought booch.

Home brewer’s just don’t have the processes, careful inspections, and measurements in place that big companies have to make sure that their kombucha is safe for the consumer to drink.

We have no idea whether these women were making their kombucha properly, or their kombucha was highly contaminated with bad bacteria from improper brewing practices.

Heck, if you make any recipe at home wrong enough it could probably kill you.

The good news for those who are worried about kombucha being deadly is that here have been zero cases of anyone dying from store bought kombucha to date, so just be sure to buy your kombucha from the store.

(Plus if you were to die from drinking store bought kombucha, you’re family would probably receive a pretty hefty settlement from the company that made it, so you really can’t lose)

I think the whole hysteria over kombucha being lethally dangerous is a lttle ironic considering that kombucha is full of probiotics, antioxidants, and low in sugar while soda, a drink that’s commonly considered “safe” to drink, is high in sugar, full of empty calories, and has been tied to a higher risk of death for years. WebMD

But I digress.

Could you Die from Drinking Kombucha?

So we know that maybe one person has died from drinking kombucha 25 years ago. But surely someone could die from drinking kombucha today if it was made improperly right?

As I said above, no one has ever died from drinking store bought kombucha. However, there are a few specific incidents where someone's life could possibly be at risk after drinking improperly brewed homemade kombucha.

Someone with an Immune Disease Drinking Contaminated Kombucha

It’s generally recommended that people with immune diseases like liver disease, kidney disease, HIV, or other immune disorders don’t drink kombucha because it’s a drink that has a greater risk of being contaminated than most other drinks like milk or juice.

The reason for this is because kombucha is unpasteurized to allow for growth of its living culture of healthy bacteria and yeast that may aid in digestion, reduce risk of some cancers, and lower risk of diarrhea. However this also creates a prime environment for unhealthy bacteria and yeast to grow in the drink also if it’s not brewed or stored properly.

And if a batch of kombucha was contaminated with bad bacteria, someone with a compromised immune system would be unable to fight off and protect themselves from the contamination after they consumed it.

So theoretically if someone with an immune disease was to drink a lot of kombucha, and that kombucha was contaminated with unhealthy bacteria and yeast, their health and maybe even life could be at serious risk.

Kids Drinking Multiple Bottles of Highly Alcoholic Home Brewed Kombucha

The jury is still out on whether or not kids should drink kombucha. One big reason why some people don’t want them is because all booch has a small amount of alcohol in it, and alcohol is obviously a dangerous thing for children to consume because their organs are still developing.

Now the amount of alcohol in properly brewed kombucha is a natural result of the brewing process and ends up being less than 0.5% of the drink (a similar amount of alcohol to that in a ripe banana and grape juice).

But if a homebrewed, unregulated batch of booch was over fermented and reached an alcohol level of 3-5%, and a child drank multiple bottles of the stuff, they could get alcohol poisoning and suffer serious consequences.

Final Thoughts

I hope that rather than scare you off of kombucha, this article could put you at ease that there really is no evidence that kombucha can kill you, and you should feel free to enjoy the drink and all it’s health benefits with peace of mind.

Even though kombucha has a few health risks for certain groups of people, especially when home brewed, the benefits of the drink far outweigh the risks in my opinion, and I’ll continue to drink kombucha regularly for a long time to come.

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